First published in 2016
My rating: 5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads
The Short Of It:
A completely unputdownable apocalyptic thriller told in Joe Hill's distinctive voice. I loved it!
The Long Of It:
Fire has been a particular fear of mine since I was a little kid, so the premise of Joe Hill's latest novel is basically my worst nightmare: not only has an apocalyptic plague struck the world, but the fungus, nicknamed Dragonscale, causes its victims to spontaneously erupt in flames and burn alive -- which in turn causes uncontrollable fires that reduce parts of the planet into a toxic wasteland. The horrors only multiply with the formation of Cremation Crews, vigilante posses who hunt down and viciously slaughter "burners." Yikes!
But sometimes unthinkable disasters make for the very best reading, and "The Fireman" was utterly enthralling! At almost 750 pages, this sucker is long -- and yet it was so addicting that I annihilated the entire thing in just over three days. This is the second fairly long book I've read by Hill, but he has a talent for making the pages rush by. It never felt draggy or dull.
Our protagonist is school nurse Harper Grayson, a lovable (if somewhat overly cheerful) Mary Poppins-esque young woman. In the midst of the crisis, she helps treat hundreds of Dragonscale patients before finally coming down with the fungus herself -- and this is when her world comes crashing down, betrayed by the person she trusted the most.
To her rescue comes the titular Fireman, a gawky but adorable British science professor dressed in a fireman's suit who seems to have tamed Dragonscale, even corralling his internal flame to his advantage. He takes Harper to a small community of folks who may have figured out the secret to keeping Dragonscale in check -- i.e. not going up in flames -- but Harper's journey is just beginning when she arrives at this supposedly safe harbor.
It's a little bit "Lord of the Flies," a little bit "Station Eleven," and an entirely unique take on the apocalypse novel. Hill does a masterful job creating a rich and terrifying end-of-the-world atmosphere while imbuing the story with a bevy of characters both wonderful and horrifying, as well as plenty of thrill and drama. "The Fireman" will have you losing faith in humanity and then thinking there's hope -- that good people might still exist in the world after all -- then losing it all over again. It was an intense, terrifying and fun ride and I thoroughly enjoyed it! This is my third Joe Hill book and with "The Fireman" he has reached the upper echelon's of my must-read authors!